The leadership at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) defended the organization’s controversial new diversity initiative, saying in an interview that the Academy did not bow to outside pressure when crafting the rule changes, which many are criticizing as an overt effort to purge older Academy members of their voting privileges while aggressively recruiting new voting members who, in the words of the Academy, “represent greater diversity.”
In an extensive interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and president Cheryl Boone Isaacs defended the dramatic overhaul of the organization’s Oscar voting rules, which came in response to mounting criticism and calls for a boycott of this year’s ceremony when no black actor was nominated for an Oscar for the second year in a row.
Some critics, including longtime members of the Academy, have accused the organization of purging itself of older, white male Oscar voters in direct response to a media firestorm. The Academy has said it hopes to double the number of female and minority members by 2020.
Academy CEO Dawn Hudson told THR that all the talk of the Academy caving to political correctness “makes me a little crazy.”
“The Academy is tradition-bound, it is rule-bound, it is not trying to be politically correct, never has been,” she told the outlet. “We are an elite institution. That elite institution is part of who we are, and that definition won’t change. We are the best of the best in the film industry. We don’t feel that we have looked far and wide enough for the best of the best.”
“It’s not about political correctness, it’s about building the best team, the best institution, the best artists,” Hudson continued. “Because unless you have the best artists as members, unless you have the best artists voting on the Academy Awards, you don’t have a real reflection of the best of our film culture. We’re not talking about [just these] nominations. The nominations we can’t control.”
Hudson added that by stripping Oscar voting rights from longtime members who have been inactive in the film business for ten years, the Academy was getting back to its “original intention.”
“That’s how we’re culling the members, the ranks of voting members,” she said. “They will still be members, they just will lose the ability to vote on a community that they are not really a part of.”
On Monday, Mark Reina, a longtime member of the Academy who is gay and Latino, published an open letter to Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs blasting what he called the organization’s assumption that he is racist.
Boone Isaacs said it was “unfair” that older members of the Academy were being labeled.
“I certainly understand the hurt because people they don’t even know are making a judgement about them and about their artistic integrity and their artistic taste,” she told the outlet. “So I can understand why our members are insulted by this. I think that is absolutely unfair because we don’t know how they voted.”
“And yet you want to make sure the membership is as reflective of our contemporary film culture and film community as possible,” added Hudson.
The duo also weighed in on the stars who have pledged to boycott the ceremony, including Will Smith, whom Boone Isaacs said was still welcome “with open arms.”
And as for Spike Lee?
“I have no idea,” Boone Isaacs said. “Spike is Spike. He follows his own heart. This is a person we all know. He is faithful to himself, and he made a decision, which he came out with publicly, and it’s his decision. But we are very proud of our relationship with Spike.”
Check out THR‘s complete interview with Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Dawn Hudson here.